Is the endocannabinoid system the new medical frontier?

January 10, 2024

Is the endocannabinoid system the new medical frontier?

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a fairly recently discovered transmitter or signalling system within our bodies that regulates and impacts a huge number of vital functions. These functions include sleep, learning, inflammation, pain, memory, temperature regulation, mood, immune response, and appetite to name just a few. The ECS is so called because its discovery was as the result of the study of the cannabis plant on the human body.

So far, two main receptors have been elucidated, known as CB1 and CB2. A receptor can be considered a kind of doorway that with the right key, a chemical that fits that door, controls what and how busy traffic becomes through that doorway.

While found in most cells of the body, CB1 receptors are most abundant in the brain while CB2 receptors are found within the peripheral tissues and immune system. The CB2 receptors are of particular interest as they may be targeted for therapeutic benefit without undesirable psychotropic effects.

It follows that the human body has always had molecules, which we now call endocannabinoids, that work with these receptors. The close resemblance to phytochemicals from the cannabis plant to our own naturally occurring molecules explains why there are so many potential effects on the human body and health conditions which could be impacted by the judicious use of such phytochemicals.

The number, location expression of these receptors is not fixed or constant and has been shown to increase or decrease under conditions such as inflammation or tissue injury. Deficiencies or changes to our own production of endocannabinoid molecules and functioning of the endocannabinoid system, are currently being studied in relation to a host of health conditions such as depression, Alzheimer’s disease, migraine, neuropathic pain, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome.

It is an incredibly exciting and evolving area of medical research and we can all only benefit from the greater understanding of this vital and complex new frontier.